The Trojans opened spring practice on Tuesday and the WeAreSC staff gives its impressions from the first day.
Name three players who jumped out at you
Garry Paskwietz: Josh Shaw would be at the top of the list. He has moved to strong safety this spring, the same position that T.J. McDonald had last season when it was designated as free safety. Shaw looks much more active and comfortable in this role so far.
There was a lot of rotation along the offensive line, but the one guy who clearly stood out to me was Jordan Simmons. This is a beast of a guy, very strong and athletic, and I think it’s going to be a short amount of time before he sees the field. The Trojans have two incumbent guards who have started a lot of football games, so it will be interesting to see how Simmons fit into that mix. Last but not least, give an early nod to Cody Kessler for the top quarterback performance of the day. Every step forward will count in this competition, and Kessler showed himself well.
Greg Katz: On offense, I think the performance of quarterback Cody Kessler was a real positive despite an athletically great interception by outside linebacker Jabari Ruffin. Kessler just reminds me of former Arizona State quarterback great Jake “The Snake” Plummer. Another offensive player that stood out to me was true freshman running back Justin Davis. The way that Davis explodes between the tackles with some signature weaving hip movement certainly caught my attention. Obviously Ruffin displayed the type of athleticism to make Clancy Pendergast’s defense much more effective than last season’s scheme.
Johnny Curren: With all eyes on what is sure to be an intense battle at quarterback, it was Cody Kessler who came up with the top performance out of the unit on day one. It wasn’t that Max Wittek and Max Browne did anything particularly wrong -- in fact, they weren’t far behind Kessler at all. He just seemed to be a tad bit more comfortable in leading the offense on Tuesday.
Josh Shaw provided a big boost on Tuesday at his strong safety spot after spending the last half of last fall at cornerback. Back at home at his more natural position, Shaw was all over the place, playing with a sense of marked urgency that seemed to always have him around the ball. Clancy Pendergast’s 5-2 defensive scheme certainly lived up to its lofty billing on Tuesday, and no player seemed to be more at home in the new look than Jabari Ruffin. Looking like a natural fit at one of the new outside linebacker spots, he made a big statement in every phase of the game with his athletic, aggressive brand of play. And with his high-flying interception of a Kessler toss, he easily came up with the play of the day.
What was the biggest surprise?
Garry Paskwietz: Max Tuerk at center. He was named honorable mention all-conference last year as a true freshman left tackle, then played guard in the bowl game. Now it appears as if he will get every chance to earn the open center spot. Tuerk fits the qualifications you want at the spot -- mainly in that he is smart and aggressive -- so now it’s just a matter of seeing if he can adjust to the position. If he does, it will turn out to be a very beneficial position switch by the coaches.
Greg Katz: The biggest surprise to me was actually three surprises, all of equal value. The fact that sophomore-to-be offensive lineman Max Tuerk, who had played last season at tackle and guard, opened play at center was certainly an attention getter. Tuerk spent so much time at center on Day 1 that it leads me to believe that he is already the frontrunner to replace Khaled Holmes.
Equally surprising was to see true freshman defensive lineman Kenny Bigelow, considered a defensive end, line up at nose tackle. Once Bigelow learns how to man that position, defensive line coach Ed Orgeron could have an impressive down three of defensive tackles Leonard Williams, George Uko and Bigelow clogging the middle. I would also be remiss not to mention redshirt freshman offensive guard Jordan Simmons. This huge lineman is an “old school” lineman you’d see during the John McKay years. Keep an eye on this physical specimen; there is huge potential here.
Johnny Curren: When the coaching staff said that they were willing to try Max Tuerk out at every position along the offensive line, they weren’t kidding. Lining up at center throughout practice, the former Santa Margarita (Calif.) star performed more than solidly, although he did struggle at times with the exchange to the quarterback -- which is to be expected on the first day after spending last season at tackle and guard. Arguably the most gifted offensive lineman on the team in terms of pure talent, it’s not hard to imagine him developing into a standout at center, but it will be interesting to see if he does move back to tackle or guard during any of the future practices.
Top storyline you took away from day 1
Garry Paskwietz: I would have to say the defense. It was only one day but it sure looked like the Trojans have a lot of pieces that fit well. Of particular note was the impressive interception by Jabari Ruffin after dropping back in coverage from his stand-up defensive end spot. The new 5-2 scheme under Clancy Pendergast needs to be a step in the right direction in order for the team to “turn the page,” and the first look at the defense in action was encouraging.
Greg Katz: The top storyline on the first day of spring practice to me was the position change of players. It’s too early to make absolute judgments on any particular position, but it’s not too early to say the coaching staff has been busy evaluating its talent and trying to slot in players where they can best help the team. The Tuerk and Bigelow placements are a perfect example of the coaching evaluations.
Johnny Curren: With a new defense and four new faces on the coaching staff, it was almost as if everyone opened up spring ball with a clean slate on Tuesday, lending to a competitive atmosphere. Whether it was Tuerk at center, Anthony Sarao lining up with the first unit at inside linebacker or Kenny Bigelow making a surprise appearance at nose tackle with the second-team defense, it’s apparent that the coaching staff is intent on finding the best combination of talent to succeed, regardless of who did what last season. And the competitive aura seemed to bring out the best in most everyone, from Kessler, Shaw and Ruffin, to others such as Nelson Agholor and Jordan Simmons.